LATE MAY OR EARLY JUNE 1950
WHBQ radio program director, Gordon Lawhead, began a fifteen-minute
segment that he called Red Hot & Blue, taken the name from a patriotic musical film of that year starring Victor Mature, not exactly a king of the blues himself, and twenty-four-year-old Dewey Phillips starts this WHBQ broadcasting from the Gayoso Hotel,
located at Gayoso Street. He is on air from 10:00 p.m. to midnight every weekday, and until 1:00 a.m., on Saturday nights, while keeping his job in the record department at W.T. Grant's on South Main Street. The music that he plays is some of the finest American
vernacular music ever recorded: in the course of one fifteen-minute segment, you might hear Muddy Waters' latest hit, a gospel number by the Soul Stirrers, with the great singer, R.H. Harris, Larry Darnell's "For You, My Love", and Wynomie Harris' "Good Rockin'
Tonight" - "boogies, blues, and spirituals".
"Dewey was hawking records at Grant's just like those guys down on Beale Street were hawking people to come into the pawnshops",
recalls veteran disc jockey George Klein. Gordon Lawhead did give Phillips a few pointers, showing him how to run the radio control board, a skill Lawhead says Dewey never quite mastered. Phillips was later given his own studio so that on occasions when he
broke the equipment the station wouldn't be totally incapacitated. Lawhead also gave Phillips some tips in reading advertising copy, and claims to have given him what would later become his catch phrase. "I suggested that when he was reading a spot, to say,
'Co in and buy this and tell 'em Phillips sent you".
To Lawhead's amazement, the response was immediate and overwhelming. "The day after, we got seven postcards asking
for specific rhythm and blues music. And the next day we got seventy; and the next day we got seven hundred. It was a monsoon of mail".
Dewey Phillips' Red Hot &
Blue show, was soon expanded to three hours, from nine to midnight, and Phillips also began an afternoon show at 2 p.m. that mixed country records in with the rockabilly and rhythm and blues. Dewey's salary rose from nothing to $125 and than to $250, a sizable
sum in fifties radio. And of course those were the glory days of payola, a time when independent labels owners like Syd Nathan of King Records paid so much money to disc jockeys to guarantee that his records got played that he actually listed the bribes on
King's ledger books as business expenses. Some Memphis music insiders estimate Dewey Phillips pulled in as much as $100,000 annually from record companies.
Sam Phillips meets with disc jockey Dewey Phillips, whose Red, Hot, and Blue, a melange of "boogies, blues, and spirituals", is the hottest thing on Memphis radio, attracting a huge black
and white audience with its idiosyncratic style. Sam Phillips recognizes a kindred spirit in Dewey, and while the partnership that they form later this summer, known as "The Phillips" label, doesn't last more than a month or two, they remain the closest of
Elvis Presley finished the ninth grade. One of
Humes High School's teachers, Susan Johnson, remarked, "When one of our boys or girls does something special, like Elvis Presley, they should put an extra gold star after his name, because our children have farther to go than most. Elvis Presley liked to sing
songs to a few friends during lunch or at a school assembly at Overton Park".
Among those who became caught up in the different sound was a thirteen year old living in
a public housing development in Memphis. Elvis Presley began collecting the records of such bluesmen as Arthur Crudup and Big Bill Broonzy. Later, still in Humes High School, he started going down on Beale Street and emulating its musicians, not only in what
they sang but in the way they sang it (and also in what they wore). He became acquainted not only with Nathaniel Dowd Williams, but with Robert Henry, who introduced him to many of Beale Street's entertainers. "I taken him to the Hotel Improvement Club with
me, and he would watch the coloured singers, understand me, and then he got to doing it the same way as them", Henry said. "He got that shaking, that wiggle, from Charlie Burse, Ukulele Ike we called him, right there at the Gray Mule on Beale, Elvis, he wasn't
doing nothing but what the coloured people had been doing for the last hundred years. But people... people went wild over him".
Interview with Robert Henry, October 19,
1973 by Margaret McKee.
Sam Phillips starts The Phillips label with
disc jockey Dewey Phillips. There is one release by bluesman Joe Hill Louis "Gotta Let You Go"/"Boogie In The Park" (The Phillips 9001/2).
JULY 7, 1950 FRIDAY
At the works in the auto plants in Pontiac, Michigan, Johnny Cash returned home, although he made his return somewhat sooner than most - after three weeks. Still determined to get out of
Dyess, Johnny Cash joined the Air Force on July 7, 1950. By his own account, Cash's 'four long, miserable years' in the Air Force were relieved only by playing music with fellow southerners.
AUGUST 21, 1950 MONDAY
In June 1950 Sam Phillips made his first tentative venture into the record business with WHBQ radio disc jockey Dewey Phillips.
Here, Sam is trying to pitch the record to his cousin, Jim Conolly, at WJLD. Note the emphasis that he is placing on quality. The Phillips label didn't last out the year, though.
Mr. James Edward Connolly August 21, 1950
Under separate cover - a couple of quilts and four blankets - I am sending you the hottest
thing in country - the first official release of the newly organised PHILLIPS label.
I have written Bob, telling him of our artist, and I thought you might like to know
of the deal, too. Dewey Phillips and I are partners 50-50 on our new label, and we're going to do our best to make it roll in the South.
Our first releases is by an ex
Columbia recording artist, Joe Hill Louis, and the "Gotta Let You Go" side is already getting hot here. I know umbach can put it over down there, too.
We're going to
put nothing but the best race and spiritual artists obtainable on our label, and though we may not have the number of artists that other companies have, we're going to do our durndest to have the best. I'd appreciate your singing on the station and signing
it off with our records from time to
time. In fact, I think it would make a good substitute for the Star Spangled Banner.
kidding aside, do what you can to help us, and I might even buy you a couple of extra fish hooks. If our records happen to get hot down there before we get a distributor and a retail outlet in Birmingham, let me know, and we'll try to rush up the thing some.
But its keeping me going night and day getting this thing set up. Therefore, if you receive any inquiries about obtaining any of our records there, please contact me, telephone collect.
Hope to get down to see y'll before too long, and give you the story on the deal. In the meantime, if you an round up the hard and pick up ol' Dobbin and head NW we'd love seeing you, Thanks, Jimbo Best wishes, I am
AUGUST 30, 1950 WEDNESDAY
Buster Williams' Plastic Products pressed three hundred copies, and first released "Gotta Let You Go"/"Boogie
In The Park", recorded by Joe Hill Louis, on the Phillips label (The Phillips 9001/9002), shipped them to Music Sales for distribution in Memphis, and billed Phillips fifty-one dollars. It turned out to be the label's only release. The extreme scarcity of
the record today suggests that there never wasanother pressing, and, as far as anyone, the label was DOA by September.
Elvis Presley enters his tenth-grade year at Humes High School, enrolling in ROTC, in which he receives a grade of C for the first term and B for the second. Except for an A in English and an F in typing, his
grades are C's and B's. Elvis Aron Presley is issued a Social Security card, number 409-52-2002.
SEPTEMBER 20, 1950 WEDNESDAY
Gene Autry send Colonel Tom Parker an letter to thanking him for sending pictures taken at the Knickerbocker Hotel. Autry also thanked the Colonel for suggestions he made about the Checkerboard Jamboree. Autry
sent his regards to "the gang". Autry explained in a handwritten note in blue ink at the bottom of the page that the letter had been misdirected when it was sent to him to be signed. He redated the letter November 1, 1950. Gene Autry, well-known country singer,
knew Colonel Tom Parker from his Nashville connections. The Colonel represented Eddy Arnold, and Autry often toured with Arnold for various shows.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1950
The first time Elvis Presley's voice was ever recorded was on September 24, 1950 at a birthday party. "Everyone says that the first recording Elvis did was when
he went down to Sun Records, but that isn't true", says Doris Guy Wallace, three years younger than Elvis Presley while living in Lauderdale Courts, Doris Guy was, nonetheless, right in there when all the boys in the Courts started doing things physical. "I
was a little thing, right at five feet tall all my life", she says. "Fact is, I didn't ever reach a hundred pounds until I was pregnant the first time". Calling herself a tomboy during those years, she wasn't happy unless she was mixing and mingling in sports
with her brother, Farley Guy, and his three best friends, Buzzy Forbess, Paul Dougher and the boy who lived below them in the Courts, Elvis Presley. "The first time Elvis' voice was ever recorded was on my fourteenth birthday (September 24, 1950). My older
sister operated a cafeteria over on North Second and that night we had a birthday party there. For my birthday, Elvis Presley made up a song and that night he sang it. They had a tape recorder there and recorded the song. I really liked that song, not just
because it was my birthday, but because it was a good song", said Doris Guy Wallace. Mysteriously, she said, the tape recorded song, which today would surely be worth a million dollars to any serious Elvis collector has disappeared. Today the mother of three
and the grandmother of seven, Doris Guy Wallace lives in central Arkansas.
Gilt-Edge label is re-launched with a different distribution set-up from 4-Star. Slim Rhodes is among the first releases.
Influential Memphis disc jockey and singer/musician,
Eddie Hill, leaves WMPS and crosses town to WMC radio. His "High Noon Roundup" show influences many young country artists, including Johnny Cash, and includes Harmonica Frank in the regular cast.
UNKNOWN DATE NOVEMBER 1950
Arthur Groom, the Loew's Theater manager located at 152 South Main Street, hired Elvis Presley to work as a part-time usher.
The $12.75 that Elvis Presley made each week further supplemented the family income. For almost a year, Elvis Presley worked five hours a night, seven days a week at Loew's Theater. After work, he would walk down to the Grit-Iron Cafe to meet Ronald Smith
and Curtis LeeAlderson. The restaurant, located across the street from the Peabody Hotel, on Union Avenue, was an allnight hangout. His job at Loew's Theater ended when a concession candy-counter girl named Sue, not only flirted openly with Elvis Presley but
let him eat all the candy he wanted. Another usher told the boss that Elvis Presley was eating free candy, a fight broke out, and Elvis Presley punched the boy in the nose. Arthur Groom fired both boys, but Elvis Presley soon became an usher at the Malco Theater
on South Main Street.
There had been crushes before, but they'd been confined to stolen glances and wishful thinking. Sue's blonde hair and sparkling green eyes consumed
Elvis' thoughts and ignited his fantasies - not to mention paralyzed him with fear. Most of them are shy and awkward at that age, but Elvis took it to new heights. He was poor, living in the projects, and embarrassed about it. Plus, he considered his awkward
body and face ugly and assumed any girl thought him homely. But Sue stirred his dormant sexuality to such a degree that he went out of his way to introduce himself and talk to her. Unfortunately, their potential romance met an untimely demise after Elvis was
fired for the fighting Elvis said to Earl Greenwood: "I heard 'em tellin' Sue that nobody liked me 'cause I was weird and lived with coloreds. He only said that 'cause he wanted to take her out and was jealous 'cause she was talkin' to me so much. I didn't
mean to hit 'em, but he made me mad. I did it 'fore I knew what I was doin". "What about Sue", asked Earl Greenwood. "Aw, I'll never see her 'gain".
"We worked as ushers
together at the Loew's State theater down of South Main", recalled Luther Nall. "We double dated a lot. I was never a member of Elvis' "band", but we played together a lot in the neighborhood at night. Many times we had what we called a "hootennanny", where
everyone would join in the music. He sang in some of the variety shows at school".
Elvis liked the money from Loew's, but the hours were taking their toll. His grades
began falling, and his teachers complained that he was sleeping through class, so he reluctantly quit. While working at Loew's Theater, Elvis Presley dated Betty McMahan. She lived in a third-floor apartment at the Lauderdale Courts, and they frequently went
to the Suzore II Theater, a second-run house, on 279 North Main. She continually pressured Elvis Presley to take her to the St. Mary's Dances. Consequently, they spent many afternoons at the bargain matinees in the Suzore II. Elvis Presley liked to strum his
guitar at home and play it at parties. His second girlfriend, Billie Wardlow, remembers that Elvis Presley loved to sing Eddy Arnold's "Won't You Tell Me Molly Darling". Betty McMahan died in 1986.